Sometimes, all I want from my food is fulfilling a craving. But other times, I fully expect what’s on my plate to come with superpowers—primarily in the form of boosting brain health and protecting me from chronic diseases. (And when something hits both of those buckets, even better.)
As far as warding off chronic health problems goes—both of the cognitive and physical nature—an anti-inflammatory diet has become a popular way to go for many. Leading function medicine doctor and Food Fix author Mark Hyman, MD, explains that short-term inflammation can be beneficial, serving as the body’s natural defense system, but when high levels of inflammation are prolonged, it can lead to serious problems. “Long-term inflammation causes a chronic, smoldering fire inside your body that contributes to disease and weight gain,” he says. “This inflammation leads to every one of the major chronic diseases of aging—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, and more.”
Dr. Hyman says there are some foods, like sugar and processed meats, that are universally tied to inflammation. Other sources, like dairy, gluten, or eggs, can cause inflammation for people with allergies or sensitivities to those foods.
Meanwhile, there are other foods that actively fight inflammation or at the very least do not cause it. “A diet that is centered around whole, plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can help to reduce chronic inflammation and decrease our risk of developing many chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes,” says Reshma Shah, MD, co-author of Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families.
One way to do this, Dr. Shah says, is to try to make your meals colorful. “Eat the rainbow! Plant foods such as blueberries, leafy greens, pumpkins, carrots, brussels sprouts, purple cabbage, and even coffee and dark chocolate are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants,” she says. “When crafting meals consider include a variety of foods from different food groups. Explore different flavors, textures, and spices with a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.” This will also keep mealtime interesting.
Dr. Hyman agrees, adding that a good goal to aim for is to make non-starchy veggies a full 75 percent of your meal. Next, he says to add a small serving (four to six grams) of a healthy protein source such as grass-fed meat, fish, tofu, or beans. He also recommends incorporating healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds into your meal to get brain- and heart-healthy omega-3s. Both Dr. Hyman and Dr. Shah are big fans of using spices with anti-inflammatory benefits as well. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, rosemary, paprika, cayenne pepper, and fennel are some of their favorites.
Watch the video below for more tips on how to eat to ward off chronic inflammation:
All this advice is helpful, but having a few go-to recipes in mind is key to actually putting it into practice. Keep reading for six to get you started, all of which put Dr. Hyman’s and Dr. Shah’s tips into practice—and are 100 percent vegetarian to boot.
6 anti-inflammatory vegetarian recipes
This vegetarian chili is made mostly of vegetables, full of protein (specifically, black beans), and includes olive oil as well as lots of beneficial spices. And since everything is cooked together, cleanup is easy, too.
Get the recipe: hearty vegetarian chili
Pumpkin was one of the anti-inflammatory foods Dr. Shah specifically called out, so we had to include it on this list. The pumpkin is roasted and then blended with coconut milk to form a rich curry. (But don’t sweat, you can use canned pumpkin purée too.) And, as with any good curry, this one is full of spice. Tofu and cashew nuts are also added to the mix, which gives texture as well as protein.
Get the recipe: Roasted pumpkin curry
All the ingredients in this nourishing soup are easy to find and affordable. Besides the sweet potatoes, mung beans, and cauliflower, the recipe also calls for vegetable broth, olive oil, garlic, ginger, and a touch of maple syrup. The end result is a savory soup with the perfect hint of sweetness.
Get the recipe: Chipotle sweet potato cauliflower soup with mung beans
One easy way to reinvent your salad bowl is to add roasted veggies. Varying the texture in this way changes the whole meal. In this case, Brussel sprouts parsnips, cauliflower, and broccolini are the produce picks that are popped in the oven. Then, they’re paired with chickpeas and quinoa before being topped off with a homemade pesto made with kale, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil.
Get the recipe: Roasted veggie grain bowl
Chock-full of veggies? Check. Protein? Yep, beans cover that base. Loaded with anti-inflammatory spices? Most definitely. This vegetarian cabbage soup has it all. This is definitely what Dr. Shah meant when she said taste the rainbow.
Get the recipe: Spicy vegetarian cabbage soup
6. Anti-inflammatory salad
The homemade dressing for this salad is so full of anti-inflammatory ingredients that being heavy-handed will work in your flavor, er, favor. It’s made with olive oil, lemon juice, turmeric, mustard, ginger, and garlic, then drizzled over the mixture of kale, onions, pecans, and mint.
Get more anti-inflammatory vegetarian recipes—and share your own favorites—in Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group.
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